Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Teen SOYO Advent Retreat

St. George Teen SOYO is hosting an Advent Retreat (December 17-19, 2010) at our Church in Houston, TX.
Adoration of the Magi

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"For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him." 
-Matthew 2:2

Our Advent Retreat will Discussion & Small Group sessions focusing on emulating the Magi (Wise Men) described in the Gospel according to St. Matthew.  Topics include their following the Star to the Christ-child, their gifts to honor His coming, and offering worship to our God.

Retreat speakers are Rev. Fr. Symeon Kees, associate pastor and Paul Fuller, Youth Director of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church Houston, TX.

For more information, please visit our Facebook Event under "St. George in Houston Teen SOYO" or click HERE.

Enjoy some pictures from SOYO Advent Retreat 2009:

Jabra Tannous, Youth Director of St. Anthony in Spring, TX
leading a small group session

Such attentive teens - let it soak in guys!

Who asked that guy to talk??

Chanting Session

Service Project - Sending Christmas cards
to our Troops bravely serving overseas

Small group discussion

Girls too cool to partake in outdoor time

Playing Angleball (YaBoy!)

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Monday, November 29, 2010

How Do You Wear Your Cross?

It's difficult to reflect upon the title question above with any humor or light-heartedness, although leave it to me to try.

No, seriously, I'm asking you:


Comments (anonymous or otherwise) are greatly welcomed OR if you are one of my teens, college students, or young adults, further individual discussion is strongly encouraged. 

This blog post is not meant to be judgemental on my behalf and I'll put my money where my mouth is (so to speak) and prove it.

Recently during one of my confessions (don't worry ya'll I'm definitely not going to share any juicy details), while discussing what I would consider "normal" struggles in my daily life, the priest asked, "do you wear a cross around your neck?"  Ashamed and embarrassed, I responded with "no."  With no judgement (thank God), he asked why not and allowed me to give it my best attempt to justify my reasoning.  So I gave it my best attempt to justify my rationale.

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"I'm ashamed to see, feel, or think about a cross around my neck with the way I think, talk, and act."

"I don't want to bring negative attention to my Faith, Church, and Christ through my words or actions."

"I might want to avoid questions from strangers about my faith."

Interrupting me (I guess worried that I could continue with other "justifications"), he said, "well, that's the point!"

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The priest went on to explain that the cross is my lifeline when temptations arise.  I'm not supposed to feel comfortable while wearing a cross around my neck; I'm supposed to be constantly aware that I have a cross on me.  The cross allows me to have that extra reminder before I think bad thoughts, say mean things, and act selfishly or unkindly towards others.  The material around my neck in the shape of a cross, whether it be gold, silver, or fabric won't in itself stop me in my tracks beforehand.  However, the knowledge of what the cross stands for, and more importantly Christ's humiliating death upon the Cross and His glorious Resurrection offers me the ONLY opportunity for Salvation (attainment of the Kingdom of Heaven).  We now refer to that death upon the cross as the "Life-giving Cross!"

St. Luke Orthodox Church, Palos Hills, IL

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"Before Thy Cross, we bow down in worship, O Master; and Thy Holy Resurrection, we glorify!"

Although, my daily struggles of trying to live a life worthy of Christ continue, I take great comfort and refuge in that cross around my neck. 

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Boy Who Didn't Want To Go To Church

This past Sunday at St. George Orthodox Church in Houston, TX I had a very "thoughtful" encounter with a little boy about 10 years old as Divine Liturgy was starting. 

I'm walking down the hallway towards my office and I notice a little boy sitting in a chair - more like laying down in a chair, he was comfortable to say the least - playing on a handheld video game.  He was all by himself, just enjoying his game.  As Youth Director, I obviously felt obligated to correct his error of not being inside the Church during Liturgy with his family. 

And boy, was he not happy that I stopped to talk with him.  I went over to him and held out my hand to greet him good morning.  It was apparently too much for him to pause his ever-important game and reach up and shake my hand.  The coversation with "Little Billy" as we shall call him - a safe name to use at St. George so no parents call me yelling - went down like this:

Paul:  "Are you waiting for your parents to park the car?"

Little Billy:  "Nope."

Paul:  "Where are your parents then?"

Little Billy:  "I don't care."

That response didn't really answer my question, but OK!

Paul:  "Why aren't you in Church? Ya need to get into Church and sit with your family."

Little Billy:  "I don't want to go Church."

Paul:  "Listen, its important for you to be in Church; that's the reason why you're here.  Not to just sit here and play with your videogame."

Little Billy:  "I don't care."

Paul:  "Are you planning on taking Communion today?"

Little Billy:  "Ya, what time is Communion?"

Apparently there are some people who have it timed down when Communion starts at St. George (or any other Orthodox Church), which is impressive considering I pretty much attend every Sunday Liturgy and definitely don't know what time Communion starts!

Paul:  "I don't know what time it starts, but if you are taking Communion you definitely need to be inside the Church!"

Little Billy:  "Oh, then I'm not taking Communion."

Paul:  "Come on...stand up, let's go!"

I walked him back into the Church to sit with his parents as I went back to my office to print what I needed for Sunday School.  Not 10 minutes passed and I'm walking towards the Church from my office and who do I see??

Little Billy sitting in that same chair with his video game!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Reason for the Season: Journey through Advent

The six weeks prior to Christmas (the Nativity of our Lord in the Flesh) is a fasting period that many call Advent. Advent means “coming.” It is that period of time when we find ourselves waiting for the coming of the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ. For this reason, it has a different character than other fasting periods. Although there is an element of preparation involved, it is not the same as the Great Fast that precedes Holy Week and Pascha.

Nativity of Christ

The liturgical preparation is limited to the two Sundays before the Nativity and the five days leading up to the feast. Those two Sundays we are reminded of the Holy Ancestors of God and the Holy Fathers, Patriarchs, and Prophets who played a role in the coming of the Messiah. In the hymns of the Sunday cycle of services, we hear of their great faith and are called to build our own.

For most of us, we are anxious to get to the feast — we want the days to rush by. Our preparation usually consists of shopping and decorating, not to speak of the endless parties that we are invited to attend. Here is where the notion of waiting comes into play. We must discipline ourselves through self control and patience. We are to read the Scriptures, specifically the prophecies that speak of the coming of the Messiah. We are to turn our focus to a Godly way of life that calls for sacrificing and almsgiving (acts of mercy). Let us think of charity and the giving of our time, talents, and resources to others that may be in need. There is no better way to imitate Christ than to be loving and charitable towards others.

A word to the wise — put Christ back into Christmas. Find the meaning of the feast by understanding the importance of the Son of God taking on human flesh. Remember the real reason for the season is that Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, came into the world and dwelt among men, taking on Himself the sins of the world so that we might have life in Him.

“God is with us! Understand O nations and submit yourselves, for God is with us!” (Isaiah 8:9)

Reading stolen from the Antiochian Archdiocese website

Your local parish community offers numerous opportunities to increase your prayer life, discipline your mind and body, and offer charity to others.  Please check your calendar of events at your parish for dates and times to attend such activities and services.

For a wonderful time spent during the Advent season find a book to read and slowly, but surely you will make your way through it(much like your Lenten journey). I suggest Fr. Thomas Hopko's The Winter Pascha. It is truly a blessed "benchmark" to return to daily as life gets more chaotic as you struggle through your Advent season.

Snow in Houston '09

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Friday, November 12, 2010

Saint John Chrysostom: Author of the Divine Liturgy

On November 13, in the Life of the Church, we commemorate our Holy Father among the Saints, John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople.

John Chrysostom

The Life of John Chrysostom is well recorded through his own writings and orations and the writings of numerous Church Fathers. Because many of these writings have been translated to English in the past century, great interest has been shown in this prominent Father. Saint John was surnamed Chrysostom ("Golden-mouth") because of his eloquence. He made exhaustive commentaries on the divine Scriptures and was the author of more works than any other Church Father, leaving us complete commentaries on the Book of Genesis, the Gospels of Saints Matthew and John, the Acts and all the Epistles of Saint Paul. Numerous teachers of the Church have written homilies of praise in his honor. Besides his feast today and on January 27 (Translation of his Holy Relics), he is also commemorated on January 30, together with Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory the Theologian on the Synaxis of the Ecumenical Teachers & Hierarchs.

The Service of Divine Liturgy celebrated on most Sundays and on special feast days during the week throughout the Church Year are ascribed to Saint John Chrysostom.  
This has a great deal of influence upon modern Orthodox Christians, while many denominations attempt to turn to traditional styles/get "retro" in their style of worship, as Orthodox Christians, we have a practice of worship that dates back to the time of John Chrysostom in the 4th century A.D.

This rich history of Holy Tradition is what many Protestants and other forms of Christianity seem to miss out on.  Some Protestant Christians make great strides to attempt to relive or recapture the "Spirit" of Christianity in the early Church, simply by reading the Bible and making their own understanding of Church Life fit in their current way of living.

For Orthodox Christians, the early Church is OUR current Church; we have the "Holy Tradition" passed on from the Apostles of Christ to the Bishops (leaders of the Church), one of whom is John Chrysostom.  The practice of worship, the written works of the Bible, and Christian living was worked out and codified during the instrumental years of the 4th century during the times of such masterful teachers, preachers, and shepherds as our own John Chrysostom.

Icon by the hand of Nicholas Papas

What we believe as modern-day Orthodox Christians is the same as what our Church Fathers learned from the Apostles and taught to their flocks; that succession of belief and faith is what allows us as followers of Christ to proudly state on the first Sunday of Great Lent during Sunday of Orthodoxy Vespers:

"This is the Faith of the Apostles; this is the Faith of the Fathers; this is the Faith of the Orthodox; this is the Faith which has established the Universe!"

Saint John Chrysostom's Paschal Homily is one of the great orations of the humility of the soul and desire to receive Christ.  For centuries, all Orthodox around the world promclaim this as they celebrate Pascha, the Resurrection of our Lord.

Our Holy Father among the Saints, John Chrysostom has made a major impact on Orthodox Christianity, as the Apostle Paul and Emperor Constantine the Great did before him.  Not only do we look back on his life as inspiration for living our own life, but as we gather for worship with our parish community, we are constantly reminded of the love Saint John Chrysostom had for his Church, his flock, and his God.

Troparion (Tone 8):
Grace shining forth from your lips like a beacon has enlightened the universe. It has shown to the world the treasures of liberality; it has revealed to us the heights of humility. Teaching us by your words, O Father John Chrysostom, intercede before the Word, Christ our God, to save our souls!

Through the prayers of our Holy Father among the Saints, John Chrysostom, intercede with Christ our God, that our souls may be saved!

- A Day in the Life of Youth Director

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

If you like coffee and dessert, you'll love the Orthodox Coffee House

OCF of Greater Houston 
invites you to an
Orthodox Coffee House

As the season of Advent in preparation for the Nativity of our Lord begins, let us gather together in Christian fellowship and enjoy the comfort of friends, the joys of sweets/desserts and coffee/tea, and enhance our understanding on the Incarnation of Christ our Lord in the Flesh.

Thursday, November 18th, 2010
7:00p till 9:30p
St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church
Church Fellowship Hall
5311 Mercer Street
Houston, TX 77005

Now, that's a cup of coffee

*Delicious sweets & desserts
*Flavored coffee & tea
*Board games & Christmas music
*Orthodox Trivia Competition with Prizes
*Advent/Christmas Discussion with Rev. Fr. Symeon Kees

Enjoy some pictures from our previous OCF Orthodox Coffee House:

Delicious sweets & desserts

OCF group photo

Assortment of coffees & teas

We even celebrated a birthday...

Cover of GQ Winter edition

Plenty of board game fun, especially backgammon (tawleh)

Smiling pretty (part 1)

Smiling pretty (part 2)

Happy Birthday Christina...she was very surprised!!

Plenty of fun last year...hope you can join us this year!

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"We should not forget to entertain strangers, lest we entertain angels unaware." - Hebrews 13:2

The Synaxis of the Chief of the Heavenly Hosts, Archangel Michael and the Other Heavenly Bodiless Powers: Archangels Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Selaphiel, Jehudiel, Barachiel, and Jeremiel was established at the beginning of the fourth century at the Council of Laodicea, which met several years before the First Ecumenical Council. The 35th Canon of the Council of Laodicea condemned and denounced as heretical the worship of angels as gods and rulers of the world, but affirmed their proper veneration.

Synaxis of the Holy Archangels & Other Heavenly Bodiless Powers

A Feastday (November 8th) was established in November, the ninth month after March (with which the year began in ancient times) since there are Nine Ranks of Angels. The eighth day of the month was chosen for the Synaxis of all the Bodiless Powers of Heaven since the Day of the Dread Last Judgment is called the Eighth Day by the holy Fathers. After the end of this age (characterized by its seven days of Creation) will come the Eighth Day, and then "the Son of Man shall come in His Glory and all the holy Angels with Him" (Mt. 25:31).

The Angelic Ranks are divided into three Hierarchies: highest, middle, and lowest.

The Highest Hierarchy includes the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones; the Middle Angelic Hierarchy includes Dominions, Powers, and Authorities; the Lowest Hierarchy includes Principalities, Archangels, and Angels:

ARCHANGELS (1 Thess 4:16) are messengers of great and wondrous tidings. They reveal prophecies and the mysteries of the faith. They enlighten people to know and understand the will of God, they spread faith in God among the people, illuminating their minds with the light of the Holy Gospel.

ANGELS (1 Pet 3:22) are in the lowest rank of the heavenly hierarchy, and closest to people. They reveal the lesser mysteries of God and His intentions, guiding people to virtuous and holy life. They support those who remain steadfast, and they raise up the fallen. They never abandon us and they are always prepared to help us, if we desire it.

Over all the Nine Ranks, the Lord appointed the Holy Archangel Michael (his name in Hebrew means "who is like unto God"), the faithful servitor of God, as Chief Commander. He cast down from Heaven the arrogantly proud Lucifer and the other fallen spirits when they rebelled against God. Michael summoned the ranks of angels and cried out, "Let us attend! Let us stand aright before our Creator and do not consider doing what is displeasing unto God!" According to Church Tradition, and in the church services to the Archangel Michael, he participated in many other Old Testament events.

My home parish in Louisville, Kentucky is dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel.  I was baptized, grew up serving as an altar boy, participated in Church School and Teen SOYO, read and chanted at St. Michael's.  It is truly a blessed parish community, known as one of the largest Pan-Orthodox communities in North America.

Holy Scripture and Tradition give us the names of the Archangels:
Gabriel: strength (power) of God, herald and servitor of Divine omnipotence (Dan 8:16, Luke 1:26). He announces the mysteries of God.
Raphael: the healing of God, the curer of human infirmities (Tobit 3:16, 12:15)
Uriel: the fire or light of God, enlightener (3 Ezdras 5:20). We pray for him to enlighten those with darkened minds.
Selaphiel: the prayer of God, impelling to prayer (3 Ezdras 5:16). He prays to God for mankind.
Jehudiel: the glorifying of God, encouraging exertion for the glory of the Lord and interceding for the reward of efforts.
Barachiel: distributor of the blessings of God for good deeds, entreats the mercy of God for people.
Jeremiel: the raising up to God (3 Ezdras 4:36).

Each person has a guardian angel, and every nation also receives its own guardian angel from God (Dan. 10:13). When a church is consecrated, it also receives a guardian angel (Palladius, Dial. Ch. 10).

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Icon and information regarding this Feastday taken from OCA Feasts & Saints (November 8th).

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What's for lunch?

Long before my arrival in the late Summer of 2008 St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Houston, TX began hosting a weekly Spaghetti Luncheon every Thursday afternoon for the neighborhood.  The luncheon seemed to have become a staple of the community; Orthodox and non-Orthodox from the Greater Houston area would enjoy a simple, bargain-priced, yet delicious and filling lunch.

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Today (Being Thursday), an older gentleman stopped by the Church Office today around lunchtime; the conversation went down like this:

Older Gentleman:  "What time does the Spaghetti Luncheon end today?"

Church Secretary:  "Sir, we stopped doing the Spaghetti Luncheon at least 5 years ago."

Older Gentleman:  "Oh really? That's a shame...it sure was delicious.  Mind if I use your bathroom, since I'm here?"

Church Secretary:  "Of course, Sir."

*Older Gentleman begins walking towards the Church Hall*

Church Secretary:  "Sir, the bathrooms are down this hallway!"

Older Gentleman:  "Oh, ya'll moved the bathrooms."

Church Secretary:  "No, it's just a new building."

-A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

We provide the candy; getting them to bed is your deal...

A wonderful alternative to Halloween is a Christian gathering for children at your local Orthodox Church, such as the one hosted at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Houston, TX every year on the day society celebrates Halloween.  We call it an "All Saints Party" as we strongly encourage the children to dress up as Orthodox Saints instead of ghosts and goblins.  Although, super heroes and other such costumes are welcomed.

Our event even made the local newspaper back in 2010, the Houston Chronicle; please read that article here.

The children participate in numerous activities, such as Orthodox Trivia "Wheel of Fortune," Face Painting, St Paul's Journey (cake walk), St Peter's Fisher-of-Men Pond, Scarecrow Hat Toss, and Jonah and the Whale (bean bag toss).

Don't worry, plenty of candy is provided as we only get to enjoy their sugar-high for a few hours before we send them home with their parents and let them worry about getting them to sleep HEHE!

Although some parents still struggle with this concept of an alternative event to regular Halloween trick-or-treating and parties, as they ask why have the All Saints Party on Halloween; not happy about having to choose between the two.  It's important to realize the reason for this Church activity; it offers families Christian fellowship and fun, allowing their children to play "dress up" and still get their treats.  It's also a great opportunity for teens and young adults to participate and offer their ministry by helping with games, serving food, and most importantly, just by their mere presence.

Enjoy some pics for previous All Saints Party:

The Ref & Batman

I'm Ron Burgundy? (2011)

Costume Contest 2010

Cookie decorating activity...an obvious big hit with the kids

The Blues Brothers

Working together running the cookie decorating booth

Orthodox Trivia "Wheel of Fortune" w/ Referee Paul Fuller

Even Mary Magalene graced us with her presence

Disco lives on...

Hanging out near Noah's Ark activity

A wonderful variety of unique costumes

St. George the Trophy-bearer

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director